<Chapter 36. What Remains of the Battle - 5>
Two hours passed. Lee Shin Woo accepted his third cup of tea. Whenever he asked for another serving of tea, Retadane would look enthusiastic, perhaps because of the mood.
"Uaaaaah. This is the worst."
"This doesn't make any sense. Senior Ethan was..."
"It's hard to accept, but it's the truth. When I look back, after being freed from his brainwashing, I feel like there were lots of things that didn't make sense..."
The heroes were astonished by Lee Shin Woo's revelation of Ethan's betrayal. When he added that Mentes Orun was part of this conspiracy, the mood turned for the worst. Especially Lloyd, as he recalled Mentes Orun attacking him and sighed deeply.
"Yasunori's dead and we survived because of the Heaven Defying General..."
"How did things turn out like this... Why did we (the heroes) have to fight amongst ourselves? I feel like an idiot since I fought without being aware of any of this."
"We only killed two of the 12 generals, yet we lost three heroes in exchange. They weren't even killed fighting against the enemy... Ah, damn. Prince is right. This is the worst."
Lloyd, Prince, and Erian were now privy to the circumstances behind the battle and looked as though they were going to cry, yet in comparison, Lee Shin Woo, who had said what he'd needed to say, looked unburdened and drank his tea. To be exact, he acted as though he were drinking the tea while evaporating the tea that went down his throat with fire.
He didn't know this, as he didn't have the need to pretend to drink tea before, but by swallowing down the tea and evaporating it, he could feel the moisture of the tea, making it feel like he was actually drinking tea. For an undead, who couldn't eat or drink anything, there was nothing sweeter.
"...Do you like the tea I brewed that much?"
"Yes. It's seeping into my exhausted body and mind. Thank you very much."
Lee Shin Woo's genuine appreciation caused Retadane to cover her mouth with a hand and laugh in satisfaction. Yeah, this girl got really hyped up over anything related to tea. He smiled bitterly, as she was acting so different from before. Perhaps the way to conquer her was over tea!
"You're amazing, Lee Shin Woo."
Lloyd said out of the blue, and Lee Shin Woo tilted his head, as he didn't know what he was talking about. Lloyd's face was still ashen as he spoke with a disheartened voice.
"It's amazing that you can be so calm, despite everything that's happened. You confronted Ethan Cruz, who was level 8, head on and even met the Heaven Defying General... I thought you of all people would've been the most tired out of everyone here."
"I told you this before, but I was already somewhat prepared for this. Plus, I had never met Ethan Cruz before."
"Moreover, you even blocked Retadane's strike. ...Were you holding back against me in our duel?"
Lee Shin Woo lied with a serious voice.
"I was only able to block her strike because she was so tired. It was after she had fought against two of the 12 generals. I may have gone through a lot, but I didn't do much and was only helped by everyone else, so it's only natural that I have so much energy left. That's why I was barely able to block her attack."
"No, that's... Never mind."
Retadane instinctively opened her mouth to refute his point, as she had personally experienced his true strength and thus knew it wasn't so simple. But she wasn't able to utter anything after opening and closing her mouth a few times.
"You're still amazing. I stood around like an idiot, but unlike me, you reacted immediately. ...If we had continuously fought against that group of undead, then we wouldn't be here right now."
"I'd like to also give my thanks regarding that. ...Since I've been fighting the undead for such a long time, it's become difficult for me to control my emotions when seeing them. That's actually the reason I didn't fight the 12 generals, despite having the strength to do so."
Lee Shin Woo understood Retadane's point and nodded his head. Retadane was a lunatic on the battlefield, so much so that the Berserker title would fit her. Regardless of how powerful she was, if she were to fight like a raving madman against the 12 generals and their armies, then she would be killed immediately.
The entire reason she hadn't sustained a critical injury was because she had been with the other heroes. Plus, Lee Shin Woo was publicly and privately supporting her as well.
"Retadane. Don't you feel something is strange?"
"Your absolute hostility towards the undead. The rate at which your anger grows as you fight the undead is abnormal."
Lee Shin Woo boldly went straight to the point. The other heroes quieted down, as though they were somewhat aware of her problem as well. Only Kratia was unaware of this, as she tilted her head. Retadane slowly and carefully replied.
"I'd be lying if I told you I hadn't noticed it before. I know it's unnatural."
"However, I believe it's something I need. I don't plan on rejecting it. It's not a curse, but a blessing, Lee Shin Woo."
As expected, she replied with such a psychopathic response. While Lee Shin Woo stood with his mouth shut and dumbfounded, Retadane continued.
"There are no humans left in the Underground Empire, only undead. It's a place where there's nothing to be happy about, nothing to lean on, nothing. Although we have a few comrades, we cannot trust all of them. You cannot stay sane here. As time passes, it doesn't get any better, and our enemies are powerful. So, there's a chance that I'm not the same as I once was."
"So that's why I'm so thankful. The fact that my hatred, which could've faded with time, has remained strong. My hatred keeps reminding me not to forget my original goal. It's probably a blessing the world has bestowed upon us."
"The world's... blessing..."
Hearing that, Lee Shin Woo realized just how broken she was after so many years.
How much hatred did she have and what were the extent of her feelings; she, who had experienced the fall of the Empire? She had shouldered all of that and had survived thus far. Moreover, her unnatural hostility and anger must've continuously increased over that time, so it was only natural that she was so damaged.
Trying to get through to her had been a mistake. Shino Rendu didn't have any luck either, as he'd tried to get them to work together without reading the mood.
"Lee Shin Woo, I know that you're worried about me. Thank you. However, you don't need to be worried about me."
"If you can keep yourself together with that, then... I have nothing more to say. However, as I said before, it'd be a waste to ostracize them completely. There should be nothing wrong with us working together. This is just me prioritizing things. Who we have to be wary of, who we reject, and who we have to take down. You don't disagree with me, do you?"
"...No. It frustrates me, but you're right. Let's take our time to think about that subject. I'd like it if you didn't deepen your relationship with them too quickly, but... if there's something to be gained from them, then I'll be counting on you. You should be able to make contact with them, as you haven't been so deeply affected by this world."
"Of course. I'll take care of it."
It seemed as though she was satisfied with his response, but her feelings didn’t show on her face. Then, she picked up the kettle and asked Lee Shin Woo.
"Would you like another cup?"
"...You know, you two."
Once they were done conversing so seriously and the mood had become more relaxed like before, Lloyd spoke again without reading the mood.
"You guys are a good match."
Retadane was surprisingly anxious. Lee Shin Woo was the same. Wait a sec, how the hell did this conversation go from her emotional problems to relationships!? Just how bad was he at reading the mood!? He supposed it made sense coming from him, as he was stupid enough to mistake Prince's gender!
"Kehek, what the hell are you talking about...?"
"But, Prince. It's not so surprising, is it? Heroes are people too, so they should be able to fall in love as well."
"...That's rich coming from you."
"Well, I... I'm not really interested and it's not like anyone likes me."
Once the conversation turned around on him, he became hesitant, which was pathetic. Erian and Prince looked at Lloyd coldly, as if their eyes were near absolute zero. However, Lloyd shook his head and said strongly.
"You just said it yourself Retadane. That there's nothing to be happy about or lean on. ...But if you fall in love, then both of those issues are solved, right?"
"I don't think this is the time to engage in such trivial emotions."
"It's not trivial. It's the feeling that leads to birth, and it's a natural phenomenon. What makes a human being, human is their feelings. You're keeping yourself together through your hatred for the undead, or in other words, your feelings."
Lee Shin Woo was moved, as Lloyd spoke like such a typical hero. Wait, when he thought about it, this wasn't the time to be doing this. Retadane refuted Lloyd in Lee Shin Woo's stead.
"...Even so, why are you bringing this up now?"
"I don't think I've ever seen you talk to anyone for so long, but you go on and on with Lee Shin Woo. You were trying to hide it, but you've been smiling here and there whenever Lee Shin Woo is talking... It seems like you guys really understand each other."
"That's... I suppose you're right."
"Wait, hold up! So you want our junior to just accept all that crap Retadane is saying?"
"If I was smiling, then it's because Lee Shin Woo is someone who can appreciate tea."
"In other words, you're interested."
Retadane kept her mouth shut. She had given up on convincing Lloyd. Lee Shin Woo wanted to say 'worry about yourself', but... in order to maintain some sort of dignity for the both of them, he just lightly replied.
"Love can't be coerced, Senior Lloyd. You realize it on your own."
"...I just thought you guys looked good together."
"Haha, you should only say that kind of thing to people who are in love."
Just to be clear, Lee Shin Woo wasn't capable of love. Because he couldn't feel it. If he went into specifics, then he'd be miserable, as he'd recall everything he lacked. Lloyd seemed regretful, as he shrugged his shoulders, and Retadane calmed down as well. And for some reason, Prince nodded her head exaggeratingly.
"That's obvious. Don't stick our junior with that old bag."
However, Lloyd's words weren't meaningless. The once gloomy and heavy mood had become a bit lighter, and all the heroes began to smile a little. Lee Shin Woo watched the group of heroes, who had become more energized than before, but then... Kratia came behind him and whispered so that only he could hear her.
"Shin Woo, you won't be able to avoid it forever."
"Hey, stop with the sudden foreshadowing."
"I hope you can break through that illusion of yours as soon as possible."
Kratia said and smiled subtly. And in return, Lee Shin Woo hit her forehead.
The heroes' repose continued for a little while longer.Previous Chapter Next Chapter